Ibn Khaldun: His Theory Of Caliphate

His Life Abu Zaid Abd ar-Rahman ibn Khaldun was bom at Tunis on May 27, 1332 in an Arab family, which had dwelt for nearly five centuries at Seville in Muslim Spain. When driven out from there by the Christians, it settled in Tunis in North Africa. It was a family of scholars and jurists. After receiving education at home with renowned scholars, Ibn Khaldun at the age of twenty began to participate in the political life of the petty kingdoms of North Africa and even of the Muslim kingdom of Granada in Spain. Though he aspired to high office in the service of these Muslim kingdoms, but he rarely succeeded in holding it for long, partly due to his restless energy and partly due to the intrigues of his enemies.


The result was that Ibn Khaldun was always moving from kingdom to kingdom, and from city to city, in search of employment and security. He was a very keen observer of human affairs and motives and was of scholarly bent of mind. In his hectic life, Ibn Khaldun got only four years of peace and solitude when he took refuge in a castle under the protection of a powerful local tribe. He was then more than forty yeas of age, and wrote his famous book Muqadimah (Prolegomena) and completed the first draft of his Universal History of the Arabs, Berbers and Persians.

At the end of four years, he again returned to Tunis, but found the place too hot for him. He then went to Egypt, and then ruled by the Mamluk Sultans. He held from time to time the office of the Chief Qazi of the Maliki fiqh. On a visit to Damascus, he met Temoor the Lame, who was then on his world- conquering campaigns. Impressed by Ibn Khaldun erudition, Temoor invited him to join his service, but he politely refused He was then allowed to return to Cairo where he died in 1406.

Ibn Khaldun was a historian, a political scientist, a scholar of Islamic law and the founder of the science of civilisation or Imranyaat, a new science, as he called, which is now called the science of sociology. But here we are only concerned with his theory of the caliphate.

Three States of Ibn Khaldun: 

As we have said above, al-Mawardi and al-Ghazali wrote at the time when Abbasid Caliphate still existed, though it was dominated by the political power of the Buwayhid Emirs and Seljuk Sultans. But by the time of Ibn Khaldun, the Abbasid Caliphate had long ceased to exist, while the title of “Khalifa” was assumed by various other Muslim rulers, such as the ruler of Muslim Spain, Fatamids Egypt, etc.

Ibn Khaldun distinguishes four kinds of States or Governmental Systems (Siyasah) as they had developed in the history of Islam. They are,

Khalifa or Divinely-inspired Islamic Ideal State.

Mulk under Shariah or State under Divinely promulgated Law;

Mulk under Siyasah Aqliya and Qwaneen Siyasah.

Siyasah Madaniyah. It was another hypothetical State, imagined by the philosophers, like Farabi and Ibn Sina. But Ibn Khaldun does not discuss it further because it is merely hypothetical and speculative and had never existed in actual life and history.

We shall now consider each of these three kinds of States, as described by Ibn Khaldun.

1. Khilafat.

It was the ideal Islamic State, established by the Holy Prophet under Divine Guidance of the Quran and maintained by the four Khulfa-e- Rashideen$& (Orthodox Caliphs). The Holy Prophet^ was the supreme Uwgiver and provides it in the Shariah for human welfare in this world and Mlvation in the next The believer who obeys this Law has the wasi or restraining authority in him for it is derived from the supreme law of Allah, as revealed to His Prophet/^. Writes Ibn Khaldun, “His (the law-giver’s) intention is not to forbid or blame man’s deeds or to destroy the forces (like asabiyah) altogether which produce them, but rather to change their direction towards the aims of truth as far as possible, so that all attentions become right and the direction (of man’s desires and plans) a single one, i.e. to Allah and the Hereafter.”

The Khilafat was the Ideal Islamic State, which ‘ lasted till the end of the reign of Hazarat Ali, the fourth and the last of the Orthodox Caliphs. Thus the Khilafat had two forces: the prophetic Shariah and the asabiyah (to be explained presently). He writes. “If he (the Law¬giver) eliminated it (the asabiyah), the laws would become inoperative, since they can only fully function with the help of the Asabiyah.” As the Khilafat was based on the divinely revealed law the Shariah of the Prophet its government was a religious one, which he called siyasah diniya. As distinguished from siyasah aqliya or rational government, which is the basis of the Mulk or absolute monarchy, the next kind of the State, as defined by Ibn Khaldun. It is an inferior form of government to the Khilafat, the divinely guided State by the Holy-Prophet, the supreme law-giver. In the Divinely-guided State, a man can attain his supreme good, which is his happiness in the Hereafter, as the way of Allah. But when the influence of the din or religion declined among the people, the Ideal State of Khilafat was replaced by Mulk or absolute monarchy

Mulk under Shariah:

Ibn Khaldun gives a graphic account of how the ideal Khilafat was transformed into an inferior Muslim State, which he called Mulk under the Shariah. Although the outward form of the Khilafat was preserved, but its inward form was changed. He writes, “This was the case in the time of Muawiya, Merwan and his son, Abd al-Malik, as well as in the early days of the Abbasid Caliphs up to the period of Haroon ar-Rashid and some of his sons. Then the characteristics of the Khilafat disappeared; nothing but its name remained and the State became a Mulk pure and simple.” Though not so good as the Ideal Islamic State, it was, nevertheless, the second best. The reason was that it was still governed by the divinely promulgated Shariah.

This change was brought about, firstly, by asabiyah or loyalty and solidarity of the clan and tribe, becoming a force in the politics of the monarchy (Mulk), but also due to the rise of the urban life among the Muslims, something which they did not know under the Orthodox Caliphate. With the rise of urban culture and civilisation among the Muslims of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, the character of their State also changed. Then the wasi or restraining authority, which checked man from violent and destructive ways of life and activities, was no longer inside the man as was the case under the Khilafat, but outside in the laws and authority of the malik or ruler. Moreover, the Shariah was no longer the creative force as it was earlier, but a matter of science and instruction. “It is thus clear that the laws of the government and the instruction of the wasi are external. As the Shariah was interpreted by the ulema, it did exercise the restraining authority of the external wasi”.

Mulk under the siyasah aqliya:

The last State in the evolution of the Muslim State was, according to Ibn Khaldun, the Mulk or absolute monarchy under its rational regime, siyasah aqliya, and political laws, qawaneen siyasah. It was absolute monarchy on the pattern of the ancient Persian rulers. Really, it is not an Islamic, but a Muslim State. Under it, Shariah was merely a routine matter of religious injunctions, rites and rituals; the authority of the ulema to interpret it had ceased, or rather, it was confined to the duties of the judge or qazi and the fatawa of the muftis or juris consults, who were under the political authority of the ruler, that is, of his reasons of State, called siyasah aqliya by Ibn Khaldun. The Mulk or monarchy came into being by the force of the ‘asabiyah of the tribe or tribes who had founded it.

But after two generations, the asabiyah of the founding clans and tribes of the ruling dynasty vanished and its political authority or power was now based only on the force of the sword which the ruler could wield and on his paid troops whom he maintained by taxing his subjects. However, this was the last stage in the four-generation cycle of the ruling dynasty, whose oppressive and luxury-loving rule was now detested by the people. At last, a new nomadic chief, supported by the asabiyah of his tribes succeeded in defeating and crushing the degenerate dynasty and in establishing a new dynasty and monarchy of its own.

Thus, the history of the Mulk under the siyasah aqliya says Ibn Khaldun, is the history of the endless cycles of the rise, glory, decline and fall of the dynasties, which did not last more than four generation or thereabout, even though these absolute kings or emperors might style themselves as caliphs; In conclusion he says that the State gives l ise to civilisation and culture, which, in their turn, provide wealth, ease and luxury to the rulers, who become degenerate and are, therefore, defeated by their nomadic neighbours who are still strong in asabiyah or group solidarity and in manliness of character “Reflect” says Ibn Khaldun,” on the deep significance of this (for it is hidden from men) and.kndw that these are matters which stand in a relationship with each other, namely the position of the State (Mulk) as to strength and weakness, the numerical strength of the State or tribe, the size of the city or region, the degree of ease and wealth in life.”



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